When I tell friends and colleagues that I’m on the board of the Information Overload Research Group – “You know, that organization that got started on the Microsoft campus a couple of years ago” – they often say something like, “That sounds interesting. So what does IORG do?”
For an organization ramped up by a handful of volunteers, we’ve accomplished a fair amount. We . . .
· Incorporated, wrote bylaws and elected a board.
· Started a web site, a blog and an e-newsletter.
· Organized a successful conference in New York and are programming a second one in Palo Alto in September.
· Held two all-member teleseminars.
· Designed a corporate sponsorship program.
· Added vice presidents for marketing and membership.
· Started assembling what we hope will be the world’s most comprehensive repository of research relating to information overload.
But the underlying question is, “What will we be when we grow up?” Our mission statement provides the roadmap:
We work together to understand, publicize and solve the information overload problem. We do this by (1) defining and building awareness of information overload, (2) facilitating and funding collaboration and advanced research aimed at shaping solutions and establishing best practices, and (3) serving as a resource center where we share information and resources, offer guidance and connections, and help make the business case for fighting information overload.
The trick, of course, is how we do each of those. Here’s what I hope to see:
· We’ll enlarge our tent when it comes to thinking about information overload. We’ve been focused primarily on IO as it affects business productivity and quality of life for knowledge workers. But the effects in other segments of life also are profound. I’d like to see us really dig into information overload as it relates to politics, government and public policy (in democracies and non-democracies); journalism, news consumption and media brands; marketing, advertising and retailing; academia (and, potentially, K-12 education); medicine and law; the military services; and other endeavors where IO is a significant factor. Also worth examining: How cultural forces and search-engine optimization both contribute to the quantities of “content” constantly being created.
· We’ll get more creative about generating resources for research projects. Facilitating and funding research is central to why we exist. Funding requires income – and more members would help in this regard. But truly promoting the right kind of research will require serving as a catalyst for connecting researchers with funding sources. IORG could also collect contributions and/or funnel corporate dollars to specific research projects. We need to work on a more concrete plan.
· We’ll become even more effective at getting what’s already being learned into the hands of individuals, companies and organizations that can use it to forge useful solutions. Excellent work is being done in this field (and areas that are closely related). I don’t want to hear, “Well, if you guys know so much about this, why does the problem continue to get worse?” We need to help corporations, universities and other major players understand that a) information overload is a demonstrable drain on their effectiveness, b) research and tools exist to improve the situation, and c) measurable ROI comes from paying attention to a and b. Perhaps we should think in terms of getting better at “sales” – selling the idea that IO isn’t a law of physics (such as gravity), but something that can and should be managed.
Bottom line: If we choose the right initiatives and pursue them passionately, we have the potential to make information overload a temporary problem.
If you have ideas on how IORG can become more effective – and better serve the world – we’d love to hear them.
Bill Boyd, ABC, is a director of the Information Overload Research Group and director of strategic communications consulting at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.